SLEEP: Chief Nourisher In Life’s Feast.

Sleep has always been hard for me. My very first memory is being in my bed at the age of five, cuddling with my mother, while we were surrounded by a chilly, damp fog. The doctors had told my parents I needed a cold humidifier to treat my asthma, which now seems like the last thing I’d want since I’m most comfortable in a warm, dry room.

I never wanted to go to sleep, even as a kid. I remember my brother, who was 12 at the time, would voluntarily put himself to bed at an appropriate time while I, an 8 year old, would fight tooth and nail to stay up late. It wasn’t about watching TV — our only television was in my mother’s bedroom and Irish channels all went off the air late at night, anyway. It wasn’t about being scared, either (that came later). It was about enjoying the witching hour; wanting to listen to more music, read more books, write more poems…

A few years later, while visiting my father in America, I discovered MTV. It was one of my first addictions. I remember the physical excitement I had waiting for the next video to start. A breathless anticipation. It was like a gambler who just keeps putting the money down, hoping the next hand will be a winner. If I didn’t know the band, I couldn’t tear myself away because what if the next video is a good one?? Night after night, I would stay awake until the sun came up. It was my secret life: the thrill of not living a normal routine, of being alone and able to do anything. There was always a disappointment when the windows grew lighter. My father got up very early for work and I was always scared that he would catch me, black circles and spiral-eyed, glued to the television at 6 in the morning. When I heard his footsteps upstairs in the morning, I would silently slink up to my bedroom and go to sleep. A few times, I didn’t hear him until he came downstairs and, quick as a ninja, I would have the TV off and lie down in a convincing position to make it look like I’d fallen asleep on the couch. My brother, as usual, had gone to bed at a decent hour, even during the summer holidays.

One time I woke up to a sound in my bedroom: a zippery repetitive sound, and, when I opened my eyes, I saw the glow of a flame under a ghoul’s face. Then the flame went out and I heard the zipper sound again and the flame came back. It was a man at the foot of my bed, holding a cigarette lighter, lighting it over and over in the dark. It scared the shit out of me. Those seconds, while my sleep-slogged brain tried to wrap itself around this scene and comprehend what was happening, seemed very long …and have never left me. It turned out, it was a drunk friend of my cousin looking for the toilet. He’d somehow managed to find his way down the stairs to the basement and through two closed doors into my pitch-black room.

I don’t know if my nightmares started before or after that. They weren’t chronic and didn’t concern me too much, but, when they happened, it was memorable. I would wake up screaming or yelling or arguing. I would sleep walk and sleep talk. They were mostly obvious stress nightmares: dreaming I’d fail exams when I had exams coming up, dreaming I couldn’t get to all the tables and I was the only server in the restaurant, that sort of thing.

At some stage, I began sleeping very lightly. It was more or less a conscious decision. We had a few break-ins in my house and I conditioned myself to be on high alert, even while I slept. I wanted to know if anyone came in my room. I would awaken to any odd sound, even faint, and, once I became a self-conscious teenager, I could never sleep properly at friends’ houses or on planes or anywhere visible because I didn’t want to be seen drooling and slack-jawed.

Once I got dogs, my sleep became even lighter. I wanted to be able to hear my kids in distress since my husband sleeps through everything. In the first few years of their lives, there was a lot of needing to pee in the night and puking in the early mornings and injuries that required nocturnal consoling. And I can’t discount the sleep interruptions caused by 185 pounds of snoring husband and 175 pounds of scratching, licking, readjusting dog in the bed beside me.

Just as I can count on one had the memorable, incredible meals in my life, there are a few memorable, incredible sleeps of my life. One was in Germany, the first night I was there as an exchange student. The room was silent and had heavy metal shades on the outside of the window that you lowered with a crank on the inside. The door was solid and soundproof. It was like being shut into a dark, silent prison cell and I slept like I never remember sleeping before. Of course, for days afterwards, the family with whom I was living made fun of how late I got up, so I never again during my stay let myself sink that deeply asleep.

Another time, I was visiting my oldest brother in Tennessee. I had just arrived from Ireland and he put me in the spare room and said, “Rack hard, Elizabeth.” That was a term they used in the Air Force, I guess. There was something about his permission — his COMMAND — to sleep long and hard and, also, the knowledge that my two family members that were there — my brother and mother — routinely slept 10+ hours, so they wouldn’t judge, that allowed me to let go into blissful slumber. Their plush bed probably helped, too.

As an adult, working in bars and restaurants, I never, ever went to sleep before 3am and regularly stayed up until daylight. These were the heady years of booze and fun. I could drink and talk all night. One night when I had just met my husband, we were staying up late, listening to music and talking — sharing really important stuff like you do with a new love — and he fell asleep mid-conversation. I was aghast. How rude! And who wants to stop the revelry before sun-up (or before the wine runs out)? What a weirdo. But, it’s one of the reasons he will never have M.E. He has an off-switch. Another reason is, he’s not a Type A perfectionist the way I am. I was always pretty obsessive about succeeding, but, once I quit drinking and became a full-blown workaholic, sleep got worse. I worked late, wound down from work even later and got up early to do, go, be… In between, I had responsibility-laden, over-achiever stress dreams.

But nothing… none of it compared to what happened when I got sick with M.E. Night terrors are very different to nightmares. Not sleeping much when you’re healthy doesn’t come close to a the lack of sleep caused by a broken immune system and a poisoned body. You’ve heard about it ad nauseum in this blog, so I won’t bore you more. All of this is just to set the stage to explain the incomparable joy of the last few months. I’ve been sleeping. I’ve been closing my eyes, falling asleep within minutes and not having conscious thought again for 7 hours, sometimes more. I haven’t wanted to shout it from the blog rooftops for fear of jinxing myself, but this is big. This is healing. This feels like what a normal person must experience. I’m still suffering from the lack of circulation, pain and nightmares, but it’s SO MUCH BETTER. I still don’t feel recovered in the mornings, but there’s SO MUCH HOPE. Every time I look at the clock and see 9am or later and my body is dry and soft and the last thing I remember is turning out the light the night before — no waking panting, heart-hammering, no drenching, trembling sweats, no full-body muscle spasms that twist my neck and crack my jaw — I break out in a shit-eating grin. Pure celebratory joy. A feeling I want to bottle and carry around with me. A swig here and there of rested jubilance.

My top tips for making some headway in this area: Feeling safe in your home, sleeping alone, never drinking so much before bed that you’ll have to get up to go to the loo in the night, balancing hormones (really, this may all be a consequence of topical progesterone and pregnenolone), and good ear plugs (life changing).

Also, when you have felt that you truly might die, every day afterwards is gravy. Going to bed excited that you got another day and you get another one tomorrow — but not so excited that your nervous system is jazzed up — that’s the key.

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

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20 thoughts on “SLEEP: Chief Nourisher In Life’s Feast.

  1. BONNIE JOHNSON says:

    YAY FOR ELIZEBETH! I’VE PROBABLY TOLD U, I READ TO 3AM MOST NIGHTS. I’VE ALWAYS STAYED UP LATE READING–STARTED A BLOUSE ON FIRE TRYING TO CONCEAL THAT FACT FROM MOM, LOVED BEING OUT LATE–UNTIL I HAD MY BABIES, LOVED WALKING MY DOG AFTER MIDNIGHT, ETC! I TOO HAD SCARY DREAMS, WAKE UP SCREAMING, OR DREAMS OF BEING LOST–PANIC DREAMS. I SLEEP WALKED FOR YEARS–SOME FUNNY STORIES THERE. THEN WHEN I GOT CFS, I STARTED WAKING UP–NO REASON–MY HEART POUNDING, UNABLE TO BREATHE. I TRIED TAKING I MG OF ATIVAN & I’D SLEEP JUST FINE. STILL DO & I SLEEP FINE AS MUCH AS IT’S POSSIBLE TO TELL. I SLEEP UNTIL NOON, USUALLY & NOT OFTEN DURING THE DAY. I’VE ALAYS HATED MORNINGS, SCHOOL, EARLY SHIFTS. I DID SO MUCH BETTER WITH EVENING WORK & SELDOM WENT TO BED BEFORE 2 AM. MY HUSBAND TRIED TO CHANGE ME FOR 5 YRS OR MORE, BUT HAS FINALLY GIVEN UP. IT SCREWS ME UP FOR THE WORLD’S NORMAL, BUT I LIKE BEING A NIGHT PERSON. JUST HOPE I’M NEVER PUT IN A CARE FACILITY, BECAUSE IT’LL BE FORCED EARLY TO BED, EARLY TO RISE, AGAIN!! GOOD STORY, LIZ.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So thrilled for you!!! Sleep is our Harry Potter wand, our hope, our promise. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Pure magic. x

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      • PS I find if I can empty my mind before sleeping then I sleep well and if I don’t then I have mad dreams based on reality that leave me playing catch up the day after. The nights I clear my mind I still have mad dreams but they aren’t based in reality, they are more “fun” and I don’t wake feeling like I was up all night, instead, I wake with my “normal” limited battery.

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  3. kneillbc says:

    Liz! It’s SO good to hear that something is going well! Sleep maes all the difference, doesn’t it? I remember with my children, once ?I could get four hours in a row, I suddenly felt sane again. I figured out sleep in the fall, if you recall, and I’m just as sick. But somehow…it’s just not as bad. Being able to sleep properly takes away a layer of ‘crazy’ for me. Those feelings where my brain is going where I can’t control it…that stuff evaporates with a few good sleeps.
    Now, to fix the belly….
    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, so true: takes away a layer of crazy. And makes me feel fortified, like, if I overdo it, it’s ok, I slept last night. And I’m walking more steps and needing less serious rest time. Thanks for always reading and commenting. X

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  4. Jak says:

    Yayy, I’m so pleased your sleep has improved 🙂 If nothing else, it gives you a break from your symptoms and definitely helps you cope better emotionally. Jak x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jak. It is revolutionary. I feel like most of my blog until recently was to do with sleep. From the day this illness started, it was always the most tortuous at night. Such sick and black and lonely times. This morning, I woke up and thought, “I just went to sleep,” rather than, “Will this night ever fucking end??” Heaven 😉

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  5. I’ve been an insomniac since birth (literally) and I’ve been fighting another bad patch again; you’re right, sleeping peacefully and soundly through the night is a blessed miracle! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. BONNIE JOHNSON says:

    BATS R CUTER! HAD 1 IN MY BEDROOM ONCE!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] writing my last post, I had two tossy-turny not-restful nights that left me depleted and suffering brain […]

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  8. […] the dual carriageway to get to classes or get around after the buses stopped running (see previous post about being a […]

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  9. […] are other slight improvements. My sleep is still better than it was the first 3 years I was sick (although, I still don’t get much and it is plagued […]

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